Existing and potential business people in Stronsay - Orkney’s Island of Bays - are being invited to take part in a “Business Academy” pilot project, due to get off the ground in February.
Run by the North Isles Landscape Partnership, in conjunction with Business Gateway Orkney, and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the pilot scheme aims to help support those in more isolated areas tackle issues such seasonality, low footfall, sole traders having to be a “jack of all trades”, among other challenges.
Stronsay, which has been enjoying something of a rejuvenation in recent years, has a thriving and varied craft industry, and came under the media spotlight when a resident community group launched a campaign to attract more visitors and residents to the island which has a population of around 300.
Valerie Dawson, project officer with the North Isles Landscape Partnership, explained that if successful the pilot scheme will be rolled out to a further four North Isles, with the potential for more.
It is planned to hold a series of three evening sessions, over three weeks, which have been tailored to businesses and people on Stronsay.
Valerie said: “From Visit Scotland and Business Gateway you’ll receive practical advice and tips, while at each session you’ll also hear about the real experiences of guest speakers including the Papay Ranger, Jonathan Ford and knitwear designer, Lizza Hume from Hume Sweet Hume, and from a relatively new business, JP Orkney, which offers food and drink tours, electric camper van hire and self-catering.
“The sessions aim to give you the opportunity to get together with other business people, learn practical things that will directly benefit you and your business, and provide you with an opportunity to think about what Stronsay as a whole has to offer.
“We would like to help people learn more about the benefits that developing a strong online presence can offer.”
“BE SEEN – maximise the visibility and value of your business and your island.”
“BE EFFICIENT – improve your bottom line by maximising control and efficiency in your business."
“BE THE BEST – provide customers and potential customers with what they’re looking for."
Also, in the morning following each session, there will be opportunity for private discussions with Business Gateway, Visit Scotland and the North Isles Landscape Partnership, where people can ask specific questions and get individual advice on a one-to-one basis.
Claire Kemp, from Orkney Business Gateway, said: “At each session we want to include a speaker who is a ‘real’ example of what it’s like to build a business and make it a success, then provide some information/professional advice through advisers, and also offer people the chance to network, talk and learn from each other. This is not about trying to tell people to do things differently or suggesting that what they are doing is wrong.
“The success of the project will depend on the numbers of businesses and people taking part and the feedback we get from that. We hope to run the project in at least five islands – with the intention of creating an even greater connection between the North Isles. By working together we can help make the whole island experience even better.
“No specific decision has been made as to which island may be next, but if there was any interest shown, that would certainly be given consideration.”
Hazel Shearer, from Airy Farm, fits both criteria running an existing business and having recently started a new one.
She said: “As a small business owner on Stronsay I'm delighted to hear about the proposed Business Academy for the North Isles. This project will be a fantastic opportunity for small business owners and local agencies to get together and share their stories, experiences and expertise.
“My own business Airy Fairy grew from a hobby, very little actual planning if I'm honest, perhaps not the best way to go into something and definitely a steep learning curve. A project such as this would have been a great help to me. As my husband, Norman and I start our new venture growing flowers on the farm – Airy Blooms - I know we will find this project invaluable.
“There are many challenges to face when running a remote business, distance from your market/customer, extra delivery charges, travel time and expenses for craft fairs/meetings to name just a few.
“Despite these challenges running your own business is very rewarding. I have met amazing people, other local business owners who have been so supportive and generous with advice, suppliers and visitors to my studio. It's all about forging relationships and making connections.”
The sessions are open and free to all businesses and any potential businesses, and while there is a focus on those with a tourism element, the content has been tailored content to be relevant to as many businesses as possible.
All sessions will take place from 19:00 to 21:00 in the Craftship Enterprise, with refreshments served.
Invitations will be sent out to existing businesses, while expressions of interest to attend can be made to NILP on 01856879076.
The North Isles Landscape Partnership Scheme (NILPS) is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Orkney Islands Council, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 programme and supports projects in Orkney’s North Isles.
Working with the communities in the North Isles the NILPS will deliver projects that will promote the heritage, landscape and culture of the area. The scheme will deliver a range of projects that includes traditional skills training, educational programmes, wildlife recording and enhancement of isles heritage centres amongst others.
The programme will invest £4.5 million in the North Isles and the project will run until 2023.